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The SIT-DigiPen (Singapore) alumni who make up Gattai Games first made headlines by winning the Excellence in Technology award at IGF China 2014 for their student game Lurking, a first-person horror game that combined simple visuals with innovative use of sound to scare players senseless.

The experimental title was a huge success on YouTube and was featured on major “Let’s Play” channels like PewDiePie and several others.

But the story didn’t end there. After graduating, a handful of students who worked on Lurking decided to take their initial idea to the next level. Together, they formed the indie game studio Gattai Games and began work on Stifled.

A black and white outline of an underground tunnel
Stifled game screenshot (Gattai Games © 2016)

Similar to Lurking, the world of Stifled can only be revealed by sound, including any real-world noises picked up by the player’s computer microphone. But while players must emit noises in order to see their surroundings, those same noises can attract the attention of enemy monsters.

The team recently made waves in the gaming world by appearing at Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), PAX West 2016 in Seattle, Busan Indie Connect Festival, Tokyo Game Show, as well as at Unite Game Conference, where they won the Best Gameplay and Viewer’s Choice awards, and at GameStart, where they won Judges’ Choice in the GameStart Indie Awards. Stifled has also been featured on several game journalism sites, including Gamasutra, Destructoid, and Gameranx.

We caught up with the team as they prepared for the final leg of development.

The premise for Stifled has so far only been hinted at by the game’s narrative trailer, which in addition to the main protagonist reveals a mysterious second character and a baby. The main character is not fleshed out in terms of personality or appearance, so players are expected to share the experience of the protagonist in trying to find out what has transpired prior to the events of the game.

A grand piano sitting open in the corner of a warmly lit room
Stifled game screenshot (Gattai Games © 2016)

The game’s developers are focusing on narrative tension for a reason. Justin Ng (BA in Game Design) says horror games nowadays have become predictable, prompting the player to shoot at monsters while resorting to cheap jump scares. By returning to the elements of horror, using sound and actions to make people question what is – or isn’t – there, the developers hope to create a more memorable experience.

“Players can get the most out of the game by playing in a dark room, with a microphone,” Justin said. “Or they can have a friend over to mess with them if they notice that the gameplay is too easy, like snapping near the mic or screaming to get the monster’s attention,” he jokes.

In creating the AI for the game’s creatures, Justin explained that the team had to find a balance between challenge and frustration that would appeal to veteran horror gamers and new players alike. Since the power to attack and kill the monster has been taken away from the player, this proved to be one of the biggest design challenges that the team had to solve during the process of creating Stifled, as not all of the developers are horror gamers themselves.

When asked about any marketing challenges the team faced, Justin mentioned location as being one of the biggest.

“One flight to Seattle for someone living in San Francisco is ten times less than the amount we pay for a flight from Singapore,” Justin said, referring to the team’s recent travels to PAX West. “The flights are ten times longer for us too.”

A black and white outline of a forest scene, with a tree, ferns, and rocks
Stifled game screenshot (Gattai Games © 2016)

He also mentioned the difficulty in getting Western games media coverage due to the team being based in Singapore. The local press will not be enough, Justin said, in trying to garner the hype needed for a global audience.

However, the team also hopes that Let’s Players can give Gattai Games the coverage they need, as the game is well-suited for streamers who want to record their first-hand reactions to the game. For the team, it is satisfying to know that the player’s experience will be dictated by the game’s audio-based mechanics. It puts the Let’s Players into a position where they cannot muck around and scream randomly at any sign of terror.

Three members of the development team standing onstage with emcee and cosplayer. "Game Start 2016" on a banner behind them.
Members of the Stifled team accept an award at GameStart (Infocomm Media Development Authority © 2016)

Bryan Teo (BS in Computer Science in Real-Time Interactive Simulation), the sound designer for Gattai Games, also gave some insight into his process for creating the audio files for Stifled. He first records raw files before adding scary-sounding filters to enhance the experience. During his time at DigiPen (Singapore), Bryan took a studio production class to add onto his solid musical skills.

He already knew how to play the piano and guitar, and learning to mix in studio production helped him come up with the compositions for Stifled.

Bryan also coyly admitted to using his girlfriend’s voice to create the sounds for the baby monster in the game by pitch shifting and synthesizing her voice to sound more youthful yet deranged. Through his efforts, the team is able to transform a seemingly simple game environment into a frightening one, as each sound effect hints at something that could attack the player.

The team recently announced plans to bring their game to PS4 and Xbox One consoles. They’re also slated to launch the game in VR for an immersive experience.